Already for the second time during this Random Single challenge, I have come across a song that I am already pretty familiar with – although it could be said with certainty that I enjoy this one considerably more than “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”. And what’s not to love? Queen were one of the few bands that I could shamelessly declare being absolutely consistent throughout the course of their career. Of course, I’m mainly talking about their singles with this point, but boy were they great at those! “I Want to Break Free” comes from the band’s eleventh studio album The Works, which continues on with the synthy, electronic direction that the band had embarked on in the 80s. This is a follow-up to their first single off the album, “Radio Ga Ga”, which is a little weak for a Queen single but still contains a fair bit of that electronic edge. But while “Radio Ga Ga” was composed by Roger Taylor – whose work always seems relatively flat – “I Want to Break Free” was written by John Deacon, who is responsible for some of the catchiest melodies of Queen’s discography.
And this song is no exception! Reinventing the traditional 12-bar blues structure, the melody in the verses carries a supreme air of empowerment and the verses, though sparse and poppy, also get the job done pretty well. Everyone wants to break free from something, and who better than Freddie Mercury to lead you through that journey? Of course, the addressing of a second person makes this a more specific breakup song, but even that is a topic that connects firmly to the band’s listener base. As with the case of any band with a huge fanbase choosing to shake up their sound, this is among recent singles from Queen that received backlash over their seeming to abandon their rock roots. I think this is fine – Queen were always a bit of a kitschy group anyway, and this quality certainly translates gracefully into the realm of electropop, which is pretty garish already.
I’ve come to realize that one descriptor that seems to span throughout a whole bunch of music I love is “big”. I love huge, bombastic qualities in musical style, theme, and sound, which might explain why I love disco and 80s synthpop and… well, I guess pop music in general! Queen is a perfect example of this kind of bigness – from “Seven Seas of Rhye” onward, the flamboyant flair of Freddie Mercury, Brian May, and others tend to make their sound an absolute pleasure to the ears. In this case, “I Want to Break Free” is pretty toned down. Much emphasis is given to the synthesizers, which seem pretty Kraftwerkian in their simplicity, as well as the guitar work that wears its Cars influence pretty openly. Even Mercury’s singing himself is somewhat restrained – well, as restrained as his singing could possibly get. He does get a few moments to really let go near the end, which is always a great way to end a song.
And finally, it’s apparently pretty impossible to talk about this song without mentioning the music video, which was banned in the US for a couple scenes in which the band members are dressed as a parody of suburban housewives. I honestly don’t have much to say about it, since it probably was much more of a big deal back then than it clearly would be today. In fact, I was more enamored by the scenes that featured Mercury and a team of finely choreographed dancers displaying their bodies in abstract euphoria. These scenes have a certain lovely, cinematic quality to them that isn’t normally scene in music videos of this era, and the parts that actually got the video banned just seem distracting and dated by comparison. And that’s not to mention that the mere trope of men in women’s clothing for the sake of humor is annoying at best and deprecating at worse, so I’ve really got nothing else to say on that front.